/ 7 July 2023

Editorial: Return humanity to us

Lockdown 0102 Dv
The country saw considerable amounts of inhumanity during the lockdown period. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula held his usual style of press conference this week. Bluster, political meandering and plenty of jokes for the journalists in attendance to scoff up and chortle away the tedium.

But the occasion had more eyeballs on it than a usual national working committee briefing. The country wanted to know how the ANC, through its secretary general, would respond to the images of the brutal assault by the deputy president’s VIP protection unit on the side of a Gauteng highway. Or, as Mbalula put it, “unarmed people being kicked like footballs”. 

The headlines will read that the ANC does indeed condemn the attack. And yet that does not begin to describe the attitude of the ruling party or its leaders.

Before he could tack on the mandatory admonishment, Mbalula launched into an impassioned monologue. He made it clear this is not the fault of the ANC, slamming the political attempts to frame it as such. He talked at length about the hostile public attitudes towards blue lights vehicles, which regularly endure the literal middle finger — particularly from rude Western Cape drivers. And finally he wondered out loud just what that Polo might have done to deserve it.

“Me and you, we only saw the snippets. We don’t know where it started and what made them to act,” he cautioned. “You want to know, everyone wants to know, what did these citizens do to warrant that kind of brutal attack.”

Is it prudent to collect all of the facts before proceeding with criminal prosecution? Without a doubt. Is there a conceivable reason that would have justified a mob beatdown? Absolutely not. 

What is plain to see is that excessive force was used by the officers in the video. Nowhere in any police handbook does it advocate curb stomping as a reasonable means to neutralise a threat. This was police brutality.

Any wily attempts to skirt around that fact, deflect responsibility or introduce doubt must be condemned.

Such an attack can only occur in an environment in which figures of authority are accustomed to operating with impunity; one in which it is considered logical to meet disobedience with violence.

Opposition leader John Steenhuisen was predictably quick to lap up the drama, but he would do well to remember that it was Cape Town police who dragged a man naked from his bathtub in Khayelitsha three years ago.

We could name innumerable other examples of reckless overreach, from the documented military cruelty during the Covid lockdown to the tragedies of Andries Tatane and Marikana. In all cases we have had to stand and watch as politicking and electioneering came first, while the humanity of the victims was placed a distant second.

Our political system — and the actors in it — too often serves itself. When people are robbed of their dignity, it should not be a surprise that agents of the state feel it is acceptable to beat the consciousness out of a man on the side of the road.